One of the beautiful aspects of baseball is the development that takes place for most young athletes before they see time at the major league level. For basketball and football, college has become a sort of minor league for young athletes and these raw talents are often brought up to the pros long before they have fully developed mentally or physically.
Some baseball players show signs of unmistakable talent early on and it doesn’t take long to translate to the major league level (think Mike Trout and Bryce Harper that last two seasons). This year has been no exception for rookie talent making their early mark in the league and proving to their teams that they might have the sustainability to be a big league player for years to come. But what really separates a great rookie performer from a great young baseball player is someone whose stats and contributions translate into wins for their team. This is my list of the five best rookie position players this season. This list isn’t necessarily ranking these players in a particular order, but these are the players who I believe have had the biggest impact on their team this season and will potentially help put their team in contention to make the playoffs.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Going into the season, I has made the prediction that Xander Bogaerts was going to be the most important rookie to his team in 2014 and so far I believe it’s safe to say that he is still a raw talent. It’s not to say the young infielder hasn’t been successful this year, but I think most Red Sox front office executives, or even fans, would agree Bogaerts still needs some work at the plate. His 73 strikeouts is third among all rookies and his .256 average has him ranking in at seventh for rookies with at least 50 games played this season. With that said, he is currently leading all rookies with 72 hits, is tied for first with 28 walks, and he has a very solid on-base percentage of .338, which is fourth among all Red Sox position players. My favorite part of Bogaerts rookie season is how he continues to get at-bats everyday. His 281 at-bats is most in the league among rookies and he has played in all, but six games for Boston this season. With the more plate appearances he sees, the more he will develop into one of the league’s best hitting left-sided infielders.
Yangervis Solarte, New York Yankees
The New York Yankees new third baseman Yangervis Solarte might not be a household name for those who are not Yankee faithful. He still appears second on the Yankees depth chart for third base and while compiling my list of rookies, I was teetering between him and Houston’s George Springer, who is second among all rookies in home runs with 14. But consider this, in 68 games this season Solarte has more hits than Springer (62 versus 56), a better average (.266 versus .241), and has significant less strikeouts in almost the same amount of at-bats (31 strikeouts to Springers 87). Solarte is sixth among rookies in hits and is fourth on the Yankees, putting him above fellow teammates Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeria, Ichiro Suzuki, and Carlos Beltran. The Venezuelan born switch-hitter is also sixth amongst rookies with 232 at-bats this season and is third in RBI with 30, which also ranks him fourth on his team. The Yankees remain in the middle of the pack in their division, but could be poised to make a run after the All Star break. Solarte is being overshadowed this season by fellow teammate, arguably the league’s best rookie, Masahiro Tanaka and with good reason. But he has the ability to give the Yankees solid at-bats and contribute in the field on a daily basis making him one of the best rookies to watch this season.
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
No surprise to anyone who is a fan of baseball, Bill Hamilton has been a threat on the base path all season long. In 70 games this season the young center fielder already has 31 stolen bags, which puts him on track to steal 70 plus by seasons end. The remarkable surprise about Hamilton is that he hasn’t just been effective on the base path, but has been able to be quite successful hitting at the major league level.
The 23-year old is hitting .270 this season with 70 hits, only third behind Bogaerts and Jose Abreu for rookie leader. Quite possibly what has been most impressive about Hamilton’s rookie season is that he is tied for second in the league with a WAR of 2 which is tied with Chicago’s Jose Abreu, who has arguably been the league’s most exciting offensive rookie in 2014. Though the Reds are sitting stagnant in third place in the National League Central, Hamilton is helping keep them in contention and if they do get a postseason berth, he will certainly be an offensive threat other teams will need to consider.
Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks have had a disappointing season in 2014 mostly because of injuries to their pitching staff. There were high expectations coming into the season, but few expected rookie shortstop Chris Owings to have the debut he has had. At the end of last season, the 22-year old wasn’t even ranked in minor leagues baseball top 75 players going into the winter, but Owings has made a league wide splash. His .277 average leads all rookie sluggers who have played in at least 50 games, and his 66 hits ranks him fourth. He also leads all rookies with a WAR of 2.4 and his .458 slugging percentage has him just behind Abreu and Springer. He has 234 at-bats this year, meaning he is contributing every day for Kirk Gibsons squad. If the Diamondbacks were in a better state to contend this season, I might have Owings leading all-rookies as being the most important to their team, but the numbers never lie and Owings is making a great case for the National League rookie of the year. At the very least Owings is helping to keep the Diamondbacks out of dead last in the league, but the organization should be pleasantly surprised, and equally excited, about the potential this rookie is showing.
Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
The most exciting rookie by far this season has been Chicago’s Jose Abreu. The 27-year old Cuban defector came into his rookie season an already polished hitter after playing professional baseball for the past seven seasons. In his rookie campaign the right-handed power hitter has already hit 23 home runs through his first 65 games, which puts him on pace to challenge Mark McGuire’s rookie home run record of 49 set back in 1987. Abreu has also proved that he can hit for average, putting up an impressive stat line of .274/.321/.607. With 71 hits and 61 RBI in over 250 at-bats, Abreu is not only making a case as the White Sox best position player, but will have some serious consideration for American League Rookie of the Year. Even though Chicago currently sits last in the Central Division, Abreu’s presence is a culture change for a team looking to establish a new identity after the Ozzie Guillen tenure. With the team only seven games out of a division that is still up for grabs, Abreu might not single handedly be able to lead the Sox to the playoffs, but he is proving to be one of the best power hitting first baseman in the entire league